In your divorce or child custody case, you may be faced with a difference of opinion between yourself and your opposing party on who should have the right to determine your child's primary residence. This is the most basic and essential dispute you and your child's other parent could have regarding child custody issues.
While you all may agree on how to settle this issue down the road in your case, as of now, you are faced with the prospect of a longer than average case length and the possibility of having to rely on your judge to decide the case. If either of these eventualities could be avoided, that would be for the best, but you cannot do so in some situations.
A social study evaluation will occur in almost every situation where you and your opposing party disagree on this subject. When conservatorship, possession, and access to your child are in dispute, then a social study will likely be ordered by your judge. Today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, will discuss what a social study is, how it will impact your case and its possible effects on the outcome of the legal matter you are engaged in.
What does the law in Texas say about social studies?
The Texas Family Code contains the state law on family law cases like the one you are going through. This includes subjects related to social studies. The key thing to understand about social studies is at their conclusion, the person who conducts the study will make a recommendation to the judge regarding which parent should have the right to designate and determine the primary residence of your child. While not every case will hinge on the social study recommendation, many cases will. Knowing what to expect could mean the difference between reaching your goals and falling short.
How long can a social study last?
From my experiences, a social study can last anywhere from six months to a year and a half in length. Interviews are conducted during the social study of you, your child's other parent, and any other persons that are relevant to your case. Your child will be interviewed age-appropriate with you and your opposing party. A solo interview of the person conducting the study with your child also occurs.
You will be asked, along with your child's other parent, to provide the social study evaluator with a list of references that can be contacted regarding your parenting skills and history. The interviewer will ask your references to explain their history with you as a parent and their judgments of you regarding your involvement with your child. School teachers, counselors, physicians, and other people in your child's life may be interviewed as well.
When an evaluation is complete, what happens next?
When all interviews and inspections of your home have been completed, the evaluator will have everything they need to begin writing a report for the judge in your case. That report will detail their findings and explain the recommendation regarding which parent should win the right to determine your child's primary residence. Other recommendations that are commonly made involve whether or not a geographic restriction should be put in place that limits where your child can live and a finding regarding visitation schedules for the parent who does not win the right to determine your child's primary residence.
I will reiterate that the judge does not have to listen only to the recommendations made in the report that the social study evaluator creates. It would be a rare instance where your judge only relies on the recommendations when it is all said and done.
With that said, the social study evaluator was likely chosen by the judge, which means that they must feel strongly that this person's opinions are worth considering. With that said the social study is something to take very seriously, even if it is not necessarily determinative.
When is a social study begun in your case?
A social study is usually ordered to begin after a temporary orders hearing. If you are involved in a contested child custody case, you likely have to go to temporary orders hearing to decide this issue. The same can be said of a divorce (in addition to any property issues that need to be resolved temporarily). A judge will allow you and the opposing party to agree to what person will conduct the study, but the judge will appoint one if you cannot agree.
Who will conduct the social study in your case?
Therapists, counselors, and people with mental health backgrounds are typically the sorts of people who are appointed to conduct social studies in family law cases. Licensed social workers, psychiatrists, and psychologists typically fit the bill in this regard. Once you find out who the social study evaluator will be, look into their professional history on the internet. If you do not believe that the person has the minimum qualifications to do the job, you need to contact your attorney. At the very least, your attorney can speak to you about the person's resume or raise they're being appointed in a hearing with opposing counsel, the judge, and the social study evaluator.
What to expect when you are interviewed in the social study
As I mentioned a moment ago, you will be interviewed during the social study along with your child's other parent. Your child will also be interviewed by themselves and with you and your opposing party in groups of two. So that coaching cannot occur, all of these interviews will likely take place on the same day.
The social study evaluator will want to learn how you relate to your child and vice versa. It is helpful to learn this information outside of the distractions of other people and things. Preparation for these interviews is essential. Even if you consider yourself a great, involved parent, you will likely encounter questions and subject matter that you never really consider in your day-to-day life. To provide answers that address the concerns of the social study evaluator, you will want to work with your attorney beforehand so that you can fully prepare.
Whatever parenting skills you have will be on display during this interview; many people have told me over the years that the social study interview feels forced or unnatural. I can't necessarily disagree with these folks, but I would argue the whole premise of a family law case feels unnatural and hard to stomach a lot of times. With that said, this is the position you are in, and it is recommended that you enter the process fully prepared.
More on social studies in tomorrow's blog post
When we pick up on the topic of social studies in tomorrow's blog post, we will focus on home visits and the ever-exciting topic of paperwork that is associated with social studies.
If you have questions about the subject matter that we touched on today, please consider contacting the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. We offer free of charge consultations with licensed family law attorneys six days a week where your questions can be answered in a comfortable, pressure-free environment.